How would we improve the User Experience (UX) of Gemeente Arnhem’s website?

HeaderArnhem Central Station Arnhem the Netherlandsc HuftonCrow1-min

Government websites are not like commercial transactional websites. They don’t have to be attractive, engaging to win a ‘customer’. They are allowed to be boring because people will have to visit the site anyway. BUT, why can’t it be built for a pleasant journey, which WE TOTALLY CAN.

Since 1997, each year the Web Marketing Association, awards the best Government websites in the world. These awards show how government offices are making an effort to join the age of the digital innovation to bring the best service for its people. The awards are selected using seven criteria:

  • Design
  • Ease of use
  • Copy writing
  • Interactivity
  • Use of technology
  • Innovation and content


Based on these criteria, we took a look Gemeente Arnhem’s website as an example, putting it under Whale’s lenses and determine how we would do it differently.

Design: 3.0/5 (2.0/5 for the English site)

Homepage in general

So, this is the Gemeente Arnhem’s Homepage. Let’s be honest, what do you think?

Our first impression when looking at this page is that it has a lot of text. This means, most important information will be found through this text puzzle. It has two basic colors which are dark blue and white. It is not very visual in terms of images and videos (read more about the effect of images according to Princeton research). There are icons for each task section and some photos representing events, but, they are below the fold at the bottom of the page. We will talk more about content & its hierarchy later in“content”section.

Whale Agency would:

We understand that this is an official page, it needs to be clear and concise in distributing information, however, doesn’t mean it can not be visually attractive and still maintain its usability. We would allow the page to raise its ‘voice’ & ‘character’ with more visually attractive elements, such as a full screen pictures or a show-reel videos in the background. Check an example of below:

Homepage of

“Normaal” vs“Vergroot”contrast

Normal Contrast

Vergroot Contrast

It seems like Gemeente Arnhem has a strong focus on accessibility, with its contrast toggle, page readers and text size increasers. When we look at one of the Web’s leaders in Accessibility, Microsoft, we notice that they do not have such features on their website. These functionalities are now being handled by the browser and not necessarily javascript code.

Whale Agency would:

We would recommend the Gemeente Arnhem to consider these modern web development techniques and rely on them rather than on ‘on page’ accessibility features. Plus, we can save the space for more visually satisfying effect, such as blank space or sub-sections.

English site:

Arnhem is becoming an international city ideal for people from all over the world. Arnhem Gemeente (or city hall) is one of the first touchpoints that people encounter when they want to be a legal citizen in the city. At Whale Agency, some of us are foreigners too. We can recall the excitement we had when we first move to a new city, everything is new and fresh, and every first impression counts.

At the moment, those who don’t speak Dutch are welcomed to the homepage (English version) with an interface that is as old as city’s architecture.

Picture speaks a thousand word in this case! You can compare the site to one of the first website ever being developed in 1992. Obviously, there are many points of similarities between Arnhem Gemeete homepage (English version) and the first website ever. This illustrates how urgent Arnhem Gemeente needs to innovate its website.

Whale Agency would:
White space & bullet points are good, but not when there are only white space & bullet points.
The English & Dutch site are not compatible, which needs some work too.

Ease of use: 4.5/5

Loading Speed:
At the moment, the site loading speed is 655 milliseconds (according to Pingdom), which is very good work. Kudos for that!

Good responsive design
A good point of Arnhem Gemeente website is that they have good responsive design, which means their site function lean & smoothly on smartphone and tablet screen.

Content: 3.0/5

Information Architecture
Read more about IA (Information Architecture) on Whale’s blog.
A website’s homepage is where site visitors search for what they need on the site, so it is very important what information are organized so that page visitors can find what they are looking for.

On Arnhem Gemeente homepage, the centre position is spent for the page sitemap/menu: “Inwoners”, “Ondernemers”, “Stad&Wijken”, “Bestuur”, which we think there could better be placed somewhere else.

According to research, people don’t read everything (unless they have to), but scan rather in F-structure.
Here is a heatmap that shows where user’s eyes typically land on a webpage:

Whale Agency would:

We would move the higher level in information hierarchy (red box in the middle) to the upper-right corner in a leaner organization with a burger menu or cluster menu (instead of showing all elements on the sitemap).

The font page is better saved for images or messages that speak more about Arnhem, like in the example of Mississippi “Gemeente” – Winner of 2016 Government’s Webaward (picture below)

This is just one option for modifications, there are many other ways to effectively handle this menu. It would be great for us to hear your opinion too.

Copywriting: 4.0/5

Indeed, Arnhem Gemeente has very concise and to-the-point copywriting. Information hierarchy is organized well in term of content itself. The instruction is clear enough to ensure a well-guided customer journey.

Whale Agency would: re-design the interface to emphasize important pieces of content and bring Arnhem Gemeente closer to its people.

Interaction: 2.5/5

Sticky “smiley faces” (feedbacks form)

Another feature that you will encounter when visit the site homepage is “uw reactie” that stick around wherever you scroll, which is a good learning strategy. However, it’s timing is not right when it is one of the first thing you see since you launch the site. It is like asking for reviews before your guest experience the product.Whale Agency would: make it as a pop-up after an action is finished (if it can be managed to finish).

Moreover, you have to go through a multiple-step filling form which includes 4 steps for this feedback form (as seen below). For a voluntary action like a feedback form, it should be made as effortless as possible, therefore, we would rather make one concise and engaging form.

Event Calendar
What is better than living in a city that thoughtfully organize events for its people. However, on the current website, it is placed with very little emphasis, at the bottom of the page with no details about date & time being shown. Some structured data would help very much here.

Innovation & Use of technology: Say wut?

In a nutshell, with the purpose of representing a modern, open and innovative Arnhem city, lots of effort has been done. However, there are always rooms for improvements, re-design Arnhem Gemeente website is one of them. We might not be the chosen agency, but we are always open for a consultationand discussion.

Disclaimer: These are only subjective opinions, we hope they could result in positive solutions.

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